Nicki Minaj and her loyal legions of fans have been famously calling themselves Barbies ("Barbz" for short) all over Twitter, music blogs and award shows for over a year now - a nod to the rapper's penchant for bright blonde wigs, fluorescent nails and shocking pink lipstick. Companies would spend a fortune for that kind of publicity, but Mattel hasn't had a formal relationship with Minaj - until now.
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On Wednesday, Mattel will make a one-of-a-kind Nicki Minaj Barbie doll available for auction at CharityBuzz.com, to be showcased at Divine Design's five-day event and gala at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. Bids will be received through Dec. 19 and will start at $1,000. Previous celebrities who've had a one-of-a-kind Barbie auctioned off at the event include Carol Channing, Rachel Zoe and Janet Jackson. All proceeds will benefit Project Angel Food, which provides food for men, woman and children affected by HIV and AIDS. (Billboard.com expects to have a photo of the doll later today.)
"Barbie is obviously a pop culture icon. She's been in the spotlight for over 50 years, and strikes that chord with girls of all ages in terms of being representative of the times. And Nicki is a big part of pop culture and also huge within the fashion industry, as well as a big Barbie fan," says Stefani Yocky, a Barbie spokeswoman. "It's really exciting for us that she's been so generous to allow us to create this one-of-a-kind doll to support such an important cause."
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Yocky could not confirm whether Mattel and Minaj would have a more long-term relationship in 2012. But such a no-brainer branding deal is only one of litany of new ventures in store for Minaj in 2012, as she gears up for a new album on Valentine's Day.
"With her team, we're all working and in discussions on a fragrance deal," says Mark Cheatham, a music agent at Creative Artists Agency who helped secure Minaj's opening slot on Britney Spears' Femme Fatale Tour this year. "We're also in discussions with different apparel companies as well. We're expecting that will make her a mainstream brand."
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Minaj has wasted no time in turning her rapid-fire rise to fame into an empire - indeed, she'll receive Billboard's "Rising Star" award at the company's Women in Music event today. This August, she became the first female rapper to chart on Forbes' Cash Kings list of top-grossing hip-hop artists, entering at No. 15 with $6.5 million in earnings. Her stints on the road with Spears and Young Money labelmate Lil Wayne have made her a hit with the tween girls and hardcore hip-hoppers alike, a difficult feat even for male rappers, helping to set the tone for a headlining tour in 2012 that will bring her to Europe and Asia.
Beyond Mattel, she's teamed up with a number of fashion and make-up brands, including Onch Movement jewelry (makers of the rainbow-colored ice-cream cone necklace she sported at this year's VMAs), OPI nail polish and MAC Cosmetics. And she's about to dabble in acting, with a featured voice role in next summer's "Ice Age 4: Continental Drift," as a wooly mammoth named Hailey.
In many cases, Minaj has played a direct role in her endorsement deals and other pursuits - from naming her limited-edition MAC lipstick Pink Friday, to selecting the colors for her line of OPI nail polish, to creating the storyboards and concept for her "Roman's Revenge"-themed set on Spears' Femme Fatale tour.
"She's very hands-on, detail-oriented and has a specific vision of what she wants to see," CAA's Cheatham says.
And she's just begun to show how her selling power can help other brands. John Demsey, group president of The Estee Lauder Companies, says Mianj's Pink Friday lipstick for MAC was initially intended to sell a limited run of 2,500 pieces through an exclusive online sale during four Fridays in 2010. But after an email blast to MAC customers, a viral press launch and a healthy dose of tweets from Minaj herself, the company quickly upped its order to 30,000 and signed the rapper as its 2012 Viva Glam spokeswoman. "This was before she really broke through to the general public online, but through her communication, to her Barbz, she really made an impact," Demsey says. "She was the most well-loved online success the company has ever had."
Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, executive VP and artistic director for OPI, has similar hopes for Minaj's custom-designed line of nail colors, coming in January, and its accompanying ad campaign. "We're already getting tons of buzz from fans like, 'Where can I buy this?'" she says. "I have a 16-year-old daughter who's a huge Nicki Minaj fan, and that tells me that she has lots of appeal beyond her core base."
Minaj is also known for partially funding her music videos like "Super Bass" and "Your Love" with her own money to help them achieve the right look and production quality, a fee that may soon be underwritten by a brand partner. "We'll work with her in many different ways," Demsey says of MAC's plans for 2012. "Pop stars are sort of what the movie stars were before, in the golden era of Hollywood. They're doing the videos people are talking about, they're the people that everybody's watching."